The lazy tyranny of Facebook’s best practices

Our ECD John Kovacevich challenges whether Facebook’s “best practices” are really the best we can do. He is also aware that he uses lots of ironic quotation marks. Check them out below:

“Make the logo bigger.”

This piece of client feedback is such a cliché, it’s been an advertising meme for decades (even before we called them “memes.”) But in recent years, a new demand has taken its place: “Put the logo FIRST.”

The rise of Facebook, Instagram and YouTube as the premier digital channels to deliver ads has created an army of “experts” on how to get the most out of the dollars you spend on these channels. Facebook’s sales army has said it so many times, it’s become gospel: “You need to make a ‘brand impression’ in the first 2 seconds of your ad.”

As a result, creative briefs regularly include the line, “Digital versions must include the logo at the top of the spot.” Except…maybe it’s not true?

I find the whole premise behind the “best practice” to be deeply cynical. As even the experts will tell you at Facebook and Instagram, the vast majority of people scrolling through their feed will pay ZERO ATTENTION to your ad. The rationale goes like this, “Listen, 98% of people will ignore your ad anyway, so you might as well get a logo pop in that brief moment that they scroll by.”

Really? Have we all just decided to take that at face value?

First, your brand name and social icon do appear above your ad, so you are getting some brand context with each post. But beyond that, why the hell are you buying advertising that 98% of people are going to ignore? Isn’t our job to make something compelling that will cause that eyeball and scrolling finger to STOP and pay attention?

And is the best way to grab that attention REALLY a logo? I would suggest there are other, more compelling ways and that slapping a logo up there might actually be turning people OFF from watching your ad. Or maybe I’m wrong. And 98% of people will ignore your ad no matter what and the best you can hope for is the “logo pop” as the viewer flies by.

Well if THAT’S the case, don’t waste your dollars making an ad. Just put a well-designed still image up there with your logo, save the production cost, and reap all the “brand impressions” you can handle! Sit back, watch the customers roll in, and put the money in the bank!

Or maybe we should help our clients understand that building a brand is more than just shoving your name in front of customers as many times as possible. It’s about creating VALUE in every interaction, including your advertising. It means making it worth their time so that they’ll spend the 3 seconds or 6 seconds or 15 seconds or (gasp!) 30 seconds to actually watch your ad. And if you do it right, they won’t hate you for having spent the time to watch it.

We need to be much better at defining what “success” looks like on these platforms. Is it merely the number of eyeballs that view it or how many find it meaningful? Is reach more important than engagement? Would deeper, more meaningful engagement with a few lead to more word of mouth and, ultimately, be more valuable to a brand?

I’m not denying that the first second is important. This article says we consumers evaluate mobile ads in 400 milliseconds. Nor am I poopin’ on the good people at Facebook and Instagram — I have smart, talented friends that work there. They are pioneering creative uses of the platform with interesting work in Stories and other ad units.

It’s the lazy “here’s the formula” or “you gotta do this” approach that makes me bonkers. You don’t “gotta” do anything. Our job is to be better than the lowest common denominator.

Years ago, before the rise of these platforms, I had a client that sent one of their 30-second television commercials to a company that would strap a “sample viewer” into an eye and brain scanner and then make them watch the ad. Then the computer spit out the 15-second edit of the frames that had “scored the highest” on the scans.

The result was, of course, nonsensical — a series of jump cuts that told zero story and felt more like a Clockwork Orange montage than an ad to sell cat food. But the client was enormously proud of it and presented it to me as if they had cracked the code. “What the hell am I supposed to do with this?” I asked. He didn’t have an answer, but he insisted that it was the future of advertising.

The crazy thing is that he was RIGHT. We now routinely chop up stuff to “optimize” it for digital. I know lots of creatives that have given up trying to make any sense of the resulting cut and just shrug their shoulders and say, “Who cares…it’s just the Facebook version.” But now that digital plays a gigantic role in media buys, THAT’S the version that people are going to see. Or at least, the 2% of people who actually pause to watch it.

Listen, I don’t have all the answers. This “digital stuff” is complicated and anybody who tells you they have it all figured out is lying to you. Analysis of results is often deeply subjective; people are messy and true motivations hard to pin down.

Should you NEVER open a spot with a logo? Of course not. But “ALWAYS” is an equally insane rule. All I’m saying is that we not take these “best practices” as the be-all and end-all. Let’s ask more questions about what we’re really trying to do and develop better ways to get there.